Which was the best year for movies: 1977, 1994, or 1999?

Last week, we posted a story about how 1984 was the best movie year ever when it comes to films you actually want to watch on a rainy day playing hooky from work. Movies like Ghostbusters, Bachelor Party, This is Spinal Tap, Footloose, and The Terminator. Movies that were the exact opposite of the highfalutin’ offerings from 1939 — the year critics always cite as the greatest Hollywood vintage of all time. Don’t get us wrong, there were some decent high-brow movies from 25 years ago, too, like Amadeus and The Killing Fields. But mostly we were talking about movies that were, you know, fun.

And while some of you agreed with us about 1984’s greatness, others were outraged. Apoplectic. Even concerned for our sanity. Some even made cases for other “greatest years”. And we listened. That’s what we do. So now, we’ve tallied up your nominees and narrowed it down to your three biggest write-in candidates: 1977, 1994, and 1999.

Now, before we ask you to vote on which of these was the best year for movies, let’s go over the criteria one more time. We’re not just simply judging the year based on its Oscar-calibre films. We’re also factoring in each year’s great low-brow films and so-bad-they-are-good crapsterpieces. In other words, if you were trapped on a desert island with Ginger and only movies from one year to watch on the Blu-ray DVD player that the Professor cobbled together out of coconuts and whatnot, which would you choose?

Here are the nominees (with a few handy embedded clips). Don’t forget to weigh in with your verdict at the end.

First up, 1977:

I had my doubts about this one at first, but on closer inspection, 1977 was a pretty tasty year. First off, there were the obvious classics like Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, and this little sleeper you may have heard of…

And never mind Barbra Streisand’s A Star is Born, a handful of real stars were born with John Travolta strutting like a disco peacock in his white suit in Saturday Night Fever, Jacqueline Bisset scuba-diving in a sheer white T-shirt in The Deep, and the future Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger in the brilliant documentary Pumping Iron.

Since it was also the age of the disaster movie there was Airport ’77, Rollercoaster, Black Sunday, and the Jaws rip-off Orca. And in horror, there was the painfully inept Exorcist II: The Heretic and Dario Argento’s Suspiria. There were classic comedies like Fun with Dick and Jane, Semi-Tough, Smokey and the Bandit, The Goodbye Girl, Freaky Friday, High Anxiety, The Kentucky Fried Movie, and, of course, this (NSFW) gem…

There were tough guys strutting their stuff like Charles Bronson in Telefon, Clint Eastwood in The Gauntlet, Roger Moore in one of the best Bonds, The Spy Who Loved Me, and William Devane in one of the most underrated films of the year, Rolling Thunder.

Not bad, right? Okay, now on to 1994…

…which was a year marked by the meteoric rise of Jim Carrey (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber), a fantastic Sundance crop (Fresh, Clerks, Spanking the Monkey), and some of the best and most diverse Oscar nominees of the decade.

First, there was Forrest Gump, a movie everyone knew would win. But the real gems were the ones that went home relatively empty-handed: The Shawshank Redemption, Quiz Show, and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, which featured one of the greatest (and NSFW) Christopher Walken monologues ever delivered…

Tarantino’s fingerprints could also be found on Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. Elsewhere, Ben Stiller directed a love letter to Gen X in Reality Bites, old and new met for the first time in Star Trek Generations, and a new sex symbol (of the bad girl variety) was born…

Some other biggies from the year: Hugh Grant’s starmaking turn in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Ron Howard’s underrated The Paper (come back, Michael Keaton!), Woody Allen’s Bullets Over Broadway, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Interview with a Vampire, Speed, The Crow, True Lies, and the unbelievable documentaries Crumb and Hoop Dreams.

Not to mention two movies that have aged very, very well (followed by one that hasn’t)…

Now, finally, it’s time to uncork the most recent vintage: 1999.

At first, I have to admit, I wasn’t buying this. But as soon as you take a look at the revolutionary batch of films that came out in ’99, you’ll be convinced. Maybe it was something in the air — the approaching millennium, fears that we wouldn’t be able to get money out of the ATM with the Y2K bug. Whatever the case, 1999 seems to have been the year that Hollywood studios (and their indie branches) grew a pair.

That old Hollywood mentality was represented by the shattering, Jar-Jar disappointment of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The new Hollywood was personified by films like The Matrix, Three Kings, Being John Malkovich, Boys Don’t Cry, The Insider, The Limey, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Run Lola Run, Magnolia, and this…

The biggest sleepers of all, though, had to be The Blair Witch Project and this:

Even a lot of the mainstream movies were solid: Notting Hill, The Thomas Crown Affair, Toy Story 2, Any Given Sunday, Galaxy Quest, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, the now-cult-classic Office Space, and this bad boy, which falls firmly in the so-bad-it’s-awesome camp:

Okay, now you’ve heard the cases for 1977, 1984, 1994, and 1999. I know which one I’m voting for, but what’s your verdict?

Comments (135 total) Add your comment
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  • Wojo

    I feel weird saying it, but I think I have to go with 1999. It also had “The Cider House Rules,” “Election,” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” not to mention some personal favorites that aren’t quite gems, “Arlington Road,” and “8MM.” The only movie from 1994 that I don’t see here that’s definitely worth a mention is “The Lion King.” Most of 1977 just seems too cheesy.

    • wyocat

      Thanks for mentioning Arlington Road. An excellent and underappreciated film. It was actually the first DVD I ever purchased!

      • davids2

        What are you, 12 years old?

  • tibia lafayette

    My god.none of those years.
    I remember in 2002 seeing in a single month,FAR FROM HEAVEN,THE HOURS,CHICAGO and most of all TALK TO HER,GOSFORD PARK and i dont remember the summer movies.

    • Haydenfett

      Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

  • tibia lafayette

    dont you all remember 2002
    far from heaven
    the hours
    gosford park
    and most of all talk to her

    • Wojo

      I’m with you on “Far from Heaven,” “Chicago,” and “Talk to Her,” but “Gosford Park” and “The Hours” are 2 of the worst critically-acclaimed movies from the 2000s that I can recall. “The Hours” was nearly unwatchable.

    • Dave

      2002 isn’t fit to lick the boots of 1999.

      • Mark

        I can think of one decent film from 1999.

      • Mark

        I can’t think of one decent film from 1999.

    • Luddite

      ’02 was a great year for women in movies. You already mentioned Far From Heaven, The Hours, and Chicago. But there was also Frida, Unfaithful, Secretary…there were about 15 actresses that deserved a best actress nominee that year.

      • Haydenfett

        Sarah Michelle Gellar in “Scooby Doo”

  • EMB

    Of those years… I pick 1994 for Shawshank, Clerks, Pump Fiction, Reality Bites, True Lies, Four Weddings and one of my all time favorites, The Paper

  • Mark

    what is the obsession with Fight Club? That movie sucked major donkey cojones…

  • Dan

    1994. Simply on the back of the Cabin Boy being the worst movie of all time. The high highs and the low lows. Plus, Maverick was a great remake of the TV series that year.

    • Paul

      Cabin Boy is in no way worse than:
      1. Metalstorm: The Destruction of
      Jared Syn
      2. Dungeonmaster

      • esquirrel

        Cabin Boy is no way worse than:


        -Speed 2: Cruise Control

    • Tuzo

      No one can say, write or type “the worst movie of all time” without “Highlander 2: The Quickening” immediately following. You can look it up. :)

      • Yoja

        I thought it was far and away agreed that the worst movie of all time was ‘Plan Nine From Outer Space’.

  • KOZ

    All of these years have there own good reasons why they shouls be the best year of movies but I have to og with 1994.

    It gave us Forrest Gump, my favorite Disney movie The Lion King, Ed Wood, where would we be without the year Jim Carrey became so big, Clerks, The Shawshank Redemption.

    And my last reason Pulp Fiction. It was EW #1 movie from the last 25 years and what year was it 1994.

  • Meredith44

    I’m going to have to go with 1994 as well, although it was a close debate. I think the fact I own a bunch of those movies (and actually recently rewatched The Crow and The Shawshank Redemption) means that I loved a lot of those offerings.
    Plus, I was an active member of my college’s cinema group that year and saw at least a movie or two a weekend for that entire year, so obviously I found something enjoyable to watch!

  • Marylynn

    1997 was far better than 1999. Titanic, Good Will Hunting, As Good As It Gets. L.A Confidential, The Full Monty. I saw all of them in the theatre and loved them all. That was the best year of movies to me and it defined that year of high school.

    • Ceballos

      ’97 also featured Boogie Nights!

    • Critic

      Why we’re these years chosen. Of the 90s The best were ’93 or ’97. Someone already highlighted how great ’97was so I won’t rehash. 93 had Jurassic park, schindlers list, what’s eating Gilbert grape, the fugitive, Philadelphia, sleepless in Seattle, dazed and confused, tombstone, the sandlot, Groundhog Day, carlitos way, the firm, pelican brief and cliffhanger. Some iconic and high grossing movies in that group and a few cult classics. Deep resume for 1993.

  • james t.

    I’d have to go with 1994, given that Pulp Fiction and Shawshank would’ve taken Best Picture any other year.

  • Jay

    My vote is for 1999.

  • Jacob

    1994. Ed Wood and The Lion King are 2 of my favorite films of all time.

  • Ceballos

    My vote goes to 94. I’m exactly in Jacob’s camp…The Lion King and Ed Wood are actually two of my favorite movies EVER. Also, throwing in stuff like Pulp Fiction, Shawshank, Gump, Quiz Show (SO good) and Bullets Over Broadway doesn’t hurt either.

    • Mike

      Ceballos, right on! I remember being the ONLY person in the theater watching a Saturday matinee of Quiz Show in early ’95 . . . loved it then, still love it now on DVD. Paul Attanasio’s script is one of the best scripts modern Hollywood has produced.

  • gene gene

    1982- c’mon– the ultimate year for genre film- Blade Runner, Tron, E.T., The Thing, Star Trek 2, Poltergeist, Conan the Barbarian, and bad ones like Beastmaster and Sword and the Sorcerer.
    then you have films like Gandhi, Tootsie, First Blood, Officer & a Gentleman, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Sophies Choice, Fitzcarraldo, Fanny & Alexander, Diner, Garp

  • Chaddogg

    All great options, but I gotta go with 1994 on that list (although I appreciate the shout out to Sam Jackson’s awesome death scene in whatever that movie was called).

    And Chris — I’ve long contended that “The Paper” was seriously underrated (check out the cast list!), and, more importantly, would have made a SPECTACULAR television series.

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